The Zenbook wins in many categories — but loses badly in one
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Many publications (The Verge included) have heralded this year’s MacBooks as the best laptops you can buy today. For many users, they will be.
But a few surprisingly compelling Windows-based alternatives have been springing up in Asus’ high-end Zenbook line, offering the build quality, display, and performance to match Apple’s best. The 13-inch Zenbook 13S OLED option has proven to be a worthy M2 MacBook Air competitor, and eyes have been on the 14-inch Zenbook 14X OLED (and, in particular, the high-powered Space Edition) as a possible rival to the fan-equipped M2 MacBook Pro.
I took an early look at a prerelease version of the Zenbook 14X OLED Space Edition back in January, and this week, I was able to test a real, finished unit for performance and battery life. The Zenbook actually beats the MacBook in a number of important areas — but it loses in one crucial category.
Zenbook 14X vs. MacBook Pro: dimensions
The Zenbook and the MacBook are very, very similar in size. The Zenbook weighs 3.09 pounds, while the MacBook weighs three pounds. The Zenbook is 0.62 inches thick, while the MacBook is 0.61 inches thick.
I will say, from extensive experience carrying both around, that the Zenbook does feel perceivably heavier, especially when I’m lifting it with one arm. But they are both quite thin and light devices for the power they offer.
Zenbook 14X vs. MacBook Pro: price
The Zenbook is slightly more affordable than the MacBook Pro, though I don’t imagine the difference will be super significant to most shoppers.
There’s only one configuration of the Zenbook 14X OLED Space Edition — it includes a Core i9-12900H processor, 32GB of RAM, and 1TB of storage. It’s priced at $1,999 on Asus’s site, though some retailers currently have it listed for $1,979.99.
If you wanted to buy a 13-inch MacBook Pro with 24GB of RAM (the maximum available) and 1TB of storage, you’d need to pay $2,099, a premium of $100. While neither the Zenbook nor the M2 MacBook is cheap, they’re both within the realm of what consumer ultraportables cost. A 32GB / 1TB version of the 14-inch MacBook Pro (even with the base CPU option) would be $2,599.99.
Now, if you are someone whose workload will not take full advantage of the 1TB / 32GB the Zenbook offers, you may well be better off buying, say, a $1,699 MacBook Pro with 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage and saving several hundred dollars over the Zenbook. That’s going to come down to what your daily needs are.
It’s also the case that the 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro is often on sale these days (you can currently get a 16GB / 512GB model for $1,599). If you can get by with 512GB of storage and don’t mind some extra weight (the 14-incher is around 3.5 pounds), that’s the model to go for.
Zenbook 14X vs. MacBook Pro: design
Sorry, Apple, but no MacBook can compare here. Both of these laptops are very sturdy, well-built, and difficult to torque. But when it comes to looks, the M2 Pro still has the same boring, gray, big-bezeled design that MacBook Pro models have had since 2016. The 14-inch device has an updated design, but all things considered, it still looks, well, MacBook-y.
The Zenbook 14X OLED Space Edition, on the other hand, looks like a spaceship. Design elements on the lid and keyboard deck evoke a shuttle and cockpit, and apparently, there’s Morse code hidden in them if you feel like sitting down and doing some decoding. Clearly, this is a subjective thing, but I’d choose the Zenbook’s styling every time.
The Zenbook 14X also wins where display is concerned. The Zenbook has a 14-inch, 16:10 OLED touch panel with 2880 x 1800 resolution and a 90Hz refresh rate. The 13-inch MacBook Pro has a slightly smaller 13.3-inch screen with a lower resolution (2560 x 1600) and a lower refresh rate (60Hz). While the MacBook’s screen is certainly good, I’d choose the Zenbook’s any day — it’s crisp and vibrant, and I’m always here for those deep OLED blacks.
The Zenbook also has what’s called the ZenVision display on its lid, a 3.5-inch OLED panel that can display your music, the time, battery percentage or other statistics, a business card, text of your choosing, or cute little astronaut animations. (It’s supposed to be the window of the spaceship, I assume.) The MacBook Pro has a touchscreen Touch Bar on its deck, whereas the Zenbook has a physical function row, but I personally find the ZenVision display way cooler.
The Zenbook also has the ErgoLift hinge, a feature you’ll find on all kinds of Asus laptops. This hinge folds slightly under the keyboard deck and raises it a few degrees off the ground for better airflow, and it does dig into your legs when you’re using the Zenbook on your lap. It’s not super sharp, but it is one thing you need to deal with that the MacBook doesn’t have.
Zenbook 14X vs. MacBook Pro: performance
If you’re looking for a Windows laptop that can beat Apple’s silicon in CPU-heavy tasks, the Zenbook 14X OLED Space Edition is your bet. It’s put up some of the best performance I’ve seen from a laptop of this size this year. I don’t imagine it will have trouble with any general office workload.
As you can see, the Zenbook is quite powerful for its size and did better than both the M2 and the M1 Pro MacBooks on many of our CPU benchmarks. Both of Apple’s products, though, are way ahead when it comes to graphics performance, including gaming and video work in Premiere Pro. If your work is graphics-heavy, the MacBook is a better buy for you. (Oh, and in case this doesn’t go without saying, the gaming benchmarks are just for testing purposes — if you’re going to be gaming a lot, skip all of these models and get something like the Zephyrus G14.)
The MacBook’s unplugged performance is also better. That machine puts up identical scores when running benchmarks on battery. But that’s not the case for the Zenbook — scores went down when it was unplugged. Its Geekbench Compute score, for example, dropped to 20,675 on battery.
Zenbook 14X vs. MacBook Pro: battery life
Unfortunately for Asus, the MacBook leaves the Zenbook in the dust here.
The M2 MacBook Pro lasted me over 16 and a half hours of consistent use around medium brightness. The M1 Pro 14-incher gave me around 10 hours. Even with battery saver on and the screen turned down to 60Hz, the Zenbook only lasted me around a quarter of that time with the same workload and brightness setting. I averaged four hours and 35 minutes out of this machine, and that was a consistent result across a number of trials.
For many people, the MacBook’s extra hours are probably worth the extra money — that’s a very big difference. Even if you’re budget-constrained, it still may be worth downgrading to a lower-specced MacBook Pro in order to get that additional time.
Intel really needs to fix the efficiency problem its processors seem to have. The striking gap between these two otherwise-similar competitors should illustrate how unacceptable a 4:35 lifespan is in today’s market. It’s one of the worst results I’ve seen from any non-gaming laptop this year, and I’d really want to see at least seven hours from a device of this price. It even loses to some dedicated gaming machines — the AMD-powered ROG Zephyrus G14 lasts me close to twice this long.
Which should you buy?
The Zenbook’s disappointing battery life makes a very good case for the MacBook Pro as the better buy for most people. Even if you love the 14X’s futuristic design, it comes at quite a cost. Especially if you’re looking for a portable device to bring out and about, the extra hours of freedom from an outlet that the MacBook gives you should be worth an uglier computer. For those willing to compromise on RAM, storage, and a few hours of battery life, the 14-inch MacBook Pro is also an excellent alternative — and it can be purchased for less than the Zenbook if you can find it on sale.
If you are looking for a Windows alternative to the MacBook Pro and you don’t care about battery life at all, this Zenbook is competitive in basically every other respect. It’s incredibly well-built and powerful with a standout display, and its vibrant design is fun in a way no Apple laptop has ever been. It’s really too bad that Asus didn’t put an AMD chip inside it.
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